Updated on 1/31/2023
Content review by Derek Wilksen, CEO
As both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana continues to gain legal status in various states across the U.S., it is more important than ever to discuss the health risks and consequences that can result from marijuana use. Marijuana remains an illegal drug on a federal level despite many states pushing for legality on a local state level. This substance is currently the most commonly used federally illegal drug. Statistical research found that more than 20% of Americans used it at least once in 2019.
Comparable to misconceptions surrounding other legal drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine, many people may wonder if marijuana use is safe. It is important for individuals to understand that the use of chemical substances can contribute to a number of health problems, in addition to an increased risk of developing an addiction. Still, it is not enough to merely state that marijuana is unsafe. We must address specific ways that marijuana can impair both the brain and body. This way, individuals can understand the risks involved with marijuana use.
What Is Marijuana?
Marijuana is a psychoactive drug that is derived from the leaves, flowers, stems and seeds of the cannabis sativa plant. When different components of this plant are dried and shredded, they can be used to produce a variety of mind-altering effects.
This substance is most commonly used by smoking it in a joint, pipe or bong. It can also be infused in foods, known as edibles, or brewed as a tea. Some well-known street names for marijuana include weed, hash, bud, pot and cannabis.
How Does Marijuana Affect the Brain?
Researchers have found marijuana to have over 480 constituents; however, the main psychoactive ingredient is known as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). When marijuana is used, THC passes from either the lungs or stomach lining — depending on the method of ingestion — into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, THC is carried to various organs in the body, including the brain.
Importantly, every chemical substance produces a unique effect on the brain and associated brain receptors. As a result, every substance disrupts normal brain communication differently. THC is unique because its chemical structure is similar to the brain’s natural chemical known as anandamide. Anandamide is a natural neurotransmitter that helps send messages between brain cells. Because THC closely mimics the structure of anandamide, brain molecules accept it and allow it to attach to certain receptors, at which point it can disrupt normal brain communication.
Put more simply, THC interferes with nearly all areas of the brain. Areas that are particularly influenced include:
- Sensory and time perception
- Coordinated movement
Health Consequences of Marijuana Use
Marijuana use can lead to a wide range of short-term and long-term health effects. It is essential to understand these health risks to prevent recurrent marijuana use and encourage those who may be struggling to seek help.
Short-Term Health Consequences
Short-term effects of marijuana can include, but are not limited to:
- Problems with memory, learning and attention
- Distorted perception
- Difficulties in thinking and problem-solving
- Loss of coordination
In addition to the effects mentioned above, the use of marijuana can lead to dangerous physical health effects. This may include increased heart rate, lung irritation and increased blood pressure. Further, when marijuana use is repeated or becomes chronic, health consequences may only become more severe.
Long-Term Health Consequences
The long-term health consequences that can result from marijuana use depend on a variety of factors. Such factors include how the marijuana is being used (like smoked or eaten), as well as how frequently and extensively it is being used.
Some concerning mental and physical health risks of long-term use include:
- Permanent IQ loss
- Lung damage
- Increased risk of stroke, heart disease and other vascular diseases
- The development of mental health issues, including:
- Suicidal ideation
- Psychotic episodes
- Reduced athletic performance
- For pregnant mothers, issues with fetal health and development
- Increased interpersonal conflict
- Lower career achievement
- Reduced life satisfaction
Marijuana Use Disorder and Substance Use Disorder
Nearly three in 10 people who use marijuana will develop marijuana use disorder. Marijuana use disorder is a type of substance use disorder (SUD) that develops when an individual loses control over their marijuana use, despite the consequences continued use may be causing to that person’s life. The outcomes of marijuana use disorder overlap the long-term consequences of marijuana use.
Becoming familiar with the signs and symptoms of marijuana use disorder can help individuals identify and mitigate it. Similarly, individuals should be aware that treatment is available for those who are struggling. Effective treatment will involve behavioral treatments as well as participation in peer support groups, as social support can aid in treatment engagement. The following therapeutic approaches may be utilized during treatment and recovery for marijuana use disorder:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Contingency management
- Motivational enhancement therapy, also known as motivational interviewing
Casa Palmera is a mental health and addiction treatment facility that recognizes the unique challenges of recovery from chronic marijuana use. Our facility specializes in treating substance use disorder, including marijuana use disorder. Addiction does not have to rule your life any longer. Contact us today.